Friday, September 21, 2012

Situational Awareness Fail

This morning, Calmer Half decided that I needed a nice break after a 55 hour week, and took my limping self down to the Nashville Farmer's Market. We got excellent tomatoes, nice soap, wonderful cheese, and an eggplant that I have low-carb plans for.

We also stopped to get second breakfast, because we are Hobbit fans, and the food court area looked good and smelled better. Low-carb plans survived past two different stalls of bakeries selling their wares, but were arrested at the sight of a third table. A burly man with ponytail, goatee, and tattoos, wearing eyeliner and a velvet burnout scarf, was selling cheesecake. Glorious cheesecake. Huge slices of cheesecake, with ingredient lists like "apple cinnamon moonshine" and "raspberry chocolate truffle".

Yeah, no diet plan survives first eye contact with huge slices of raspberry chocolate truffle cheesecake. As soon as we got within five paces of that table, I knew we were doomed, and any protests would only be formal tokens before surrendering to calorific bliss.

I did wonder about the eyeliner and the beautiful scarf - the man did not flounce in the slightest, and well after we walked away with two slices of heaven, I remarked to Calmer Half that it would not surprise me if the chef batted for the other team, but it also wouldn't surprise me if he were straight with a lot of theater background. After all, in America, vendors are constrained by culture to wait until you approach their table to make their sales pitch, and his appearance was certainly arresting enough to make me stop long enough to see the cheesecake and fail a willpower check. (Unlike South Africa, where they will physically drag you to their stall, and engage in fistfights with other vendors trying to do the same.)

A quick look at his website and a news article about him revealed the answer, and made me perform a full classic facepalm. I'm in Nashville. Which is full of musicians. Some theater, my cheesecake-padded rear end - he's a Master Pastry Chef with "a few albums" out.

For a bright note among the news

I highly recommend reading Sarah Hoyt's blog yesterday. Not because it's an escape from the gigantic mess around us, but because it's an excellent reminder that we are a bright, innovative species, and we'll get through this, too.
When did anyone ever promise you a problem free time to live in? Not only was that always highly unlikely – you have read some history, right? – but you’d probably end up finding it boring if it came about.

We are in an exceedingly tight spot and our foreign policy of speaking softly and carrying an apologetic stick is going to get us in wars. On the other hand we are and have always been the most innovative civilization in the history of mankind and we have some awesome fighting machines. (And those are just our guys. You should see the mechanical ones.)

What I’m trying to say here is that there is no predetermined outcome. Decay and loss of power and civilizational strength is a choice, not an inevitable destiny.

The big difference between 1984 and Friday is that no one dropped a Heinlein character in the middle of 1984. The big difference between The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and Brave New World is not much greater.
Go Read The Whole Thing!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Perigee - Good Read

I've been down with the creeping crud - the most irritating kind of illness where I feel fine as long as I'm sitting perfectly still, or lying down. Fine enough to get bored, and think I really ought to be at work - and then I stand up, and realize standing up was a mistake. That leaves reading.

Perigee, by Pat Chiles, is a great thriller for pilots, engineers, and people who like reading about them and the space program. The setting is a refreshing new one: given that we've gotten single-stage-to-suborbit invented, we're inevitably going to move from single-hop tourist flights up and back to the fastest trans-continental "airline" imaginable. When a record-setting flight attempt is sabotaged, pushing the flight into an unstable orbit, how do you rescue them - and catch who did it?

This author is definitely a pilot, and knows plenty of engineers, a few zoomies, and the iron law of bureaucracy. There were plenty of quips in there that I swear I've heard on the air or over the coffee pot before - and plenty that are exactly what would be said in that situation. Everything from the internal fighting at NASA to the chatter with the dispatchers rings true. The only place where the characters fell flat were the line mechanics - even there, conversations were good, but the internal reasoning fell on its face. I wouldn't even complain, except he got everything else right!

When I went and read the reviews, I was surprised to find that other people thought it was too filled with technobabble, and all the characters were too similar. Speaking as a pilot who's known a few engineers in her time and spent years following the space program - when you put a bunch of hard-charging type A achievers who swim in a sea of federal regs into a group, you're not going to get the fictional group diversity of Firefly or Star Trek. The ladies and gentlemen in this are an authentic cross-section of the industry, and written very true to themselves and the industry they're in.

As for the technobabble, from the perspective of a pilot, he did a great job of unpacking the working language of everyday life into layman's terms and cutting down the checklists and cross-checks - much further, and it wouldn't sound true anymore. That's a hard call, and I'd appreciate if one of y'all could comment from a non-pilot perspective. Would you rather read something that has technical terms and cross-checks that are true to life and important from plot perspective, or something that's less technical, but as realistic as comic book characters?

In the strange way of the world since Amazon entered ebooks, he's not published through a major publishing house, but put the book out himself - so it's a good novel for the startlingly low price of a buck. Seriously, go get this and enjoy it, and encourage the author to go write some more. (He's also at smashwords and B&N, for non-kindle-users).

I'm going to try to get some tea, wait for the world to stop spinning, and then resume the debate on trying to hold up a Larry Corriea hardback on my chest, finding something else on Kindle, or sleep.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

No-Pasta Lasagna

Brigid had pictures of lasagna roll-up on her blog not too long ago, and as I caught up on a week's worth of web, they looked absolutely delicious. On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion that if I don't stop chowing down lots of tasty carbalicious things, it doesn't matter how much work I do, I'm not going to get down a jeans size.

So lots of internet research and contemplation later, I made a no-pasta lasagna, combined from 3 or 4 recipes. Preserved here for easy research, the delicious but not-so-photogenic recipe:

2 pounds ground beef
3 medium zucchini
1 large yellow onion (or the half left in the fridge, and half a new one, leaving you... half an onion in the fridge.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green bell pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
(with an extra 1/2 tsp of thyme and 1/4 tsp sage thrown in, because I think this italian seasoning's mix is low on 'em.)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 cup mozzarella, sliced into small chunks (I didn't have ricotta or cottage cheese, and it needed to go before it tempted me to crackers and cheese again.)
2/3 cup feta (okay, maybe 1 cup)
1/4 cup mozzarella (really wild estimate)

First, if you have one of those nifty mandoline slicer gadgets, use it to convert the zucchini to lasagna-noodle-like thin slices. If you don't, use a knife and carefully cut the zucchini into thin ribbons. Swear you need to get a mandoline slicer if you do this again. Put slices into a colander, add a generous sprinkling of salt to the dry-looking slices. Leave alone for at least half an hour, while defrosting the "mince meat".

Come back after the internet distracted you to sopping wet zucchini slices and a puddle on the counter under the colander. Wipe up puddle, poke slices, reassure self that Calmer Half did not stick them under the faucet, they're just sweating that much. Be happy that much liquid is not drowning the lasagna. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Look in fridge that needs to be cleaned out, grab tub of italian-herb-marinated mozzarella that you've already refilled with fresh cheese to marinate twice. Spoon a little olive oil into a pan, because the ground beef from Phillip Mignon (who was an obstinate and annoying cuss of a young steer, ensuring his destination in my freezer instead of a long life with some cows) is so lean that it actually needs extra oil to brown.

While beef is cooking, chop onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Note directions on all recipes with beef say to drain the beef. Laugh. Dump in the veggies, as there's barely enough fat to brown them. Add the seasonings. When onion is translucent and garlic is not quite burned, add in diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Turn off heat. Fork out marinated cheese slices from the tub and put in strainer to drain off brine and oil.

Use more marinade oil to grease a glass baking dish. Layer the still-wet-looking zucchini slices on the bottom, then half the clumpy, dense tomato-coated beef and veggies. Arrange a sparse pattern of mozzarella on top, no piece further than 3 inches from another, then sprinkle a helping of feta over everything. Repeat with rest of zucchini slices, other half of tomato-meat-stuff mixture. Top with another thin pass of marinated mozzarella, then sprinkle feta over whole dish. Follow up with a pass with the parmesan can.

Stick in oven for 45 minutes. When finished, pull out and let rest for at least 5 minutes so the molten cheese can go from flesh-searing to tasty piping hot goodness. Serve, and enjoy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Comfort Weather

Yes, mister in the truck next to me, I know you think I'm nuts to have my arm comfortably resting on the sill as I drive through the drizzle.

However, it's over 70 degrees, the drizzle is nice and cool, and after 10 years in Alaska, drizzle is comfort weather to me. It's nice to finally relax and enjoy some proper rain, instead of the "cow pissing on a flat rock" kind that Tennessee generally endures.

Besides, after a long day truly busting butt to earn that time n' a half, it's good to relax and enjoy the drive home. I should have taken a winding country road, instead of giving and rolling up my windows on the freeway.

It was a good day. I hope you all enjoyed yours, too!